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Dog attack doesn't keep key gymnast from competing at trials

Dog attack doesn't keep key gymnast from competing at trials
Danell Leyva competes on the horizontal bar during the 2012 London Olympics. (Ben Standsall / AFP / Getty Images)

The image could have been from a slasher movie.

Gymnastics coach Yin Alvarez finished pouring himself a cup of coffee after a training session here Wednesday and showed a reporter a disturbing video of his stepson's left calf after a dog attack.

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Danell Leyva, bronze medalist in the all-around competition at the 2012 Olympics in London, had suffered the wounds in early May when he tried to stop a fight between the family's two American bulldogs. The aging dogs —12 and 9 — were later euthanized. One of them had tried to attack Leyva a few years earlier.

"Dogs are your family," said Alvarez, who was at a competition in Michigan when attack occurred. "We know they don't do that on purpose. I get in my car at the Miami airport and I see a text from one of my friends, 'How is Dan doing? Sorry about the situation.' I knew something bad happened."

The Cuban-born and Miami-raised Leyva admitted he thought about the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro  during the dog fight: "Yeah, it was, actually. He was biting me and I was like, 'Really, right now? Right now you're doing this?' I guess it happened at the right moment. Any later would have been a lot worse."

The road to Rio could have ended in his own home.

At this time, any mishap is a potential crisis for a gymnast.  It usually does not involve a headline: Dog Bites Gymnast.

The predicament facing aspiring Olympian Maggie Nichols was far more conventional but still concerning. Nichols, of Little Canada, Minn., required meniscus surgery after an injury during training on the vault in April and was out five weeks.

The American gymnastics world is gathering in St. Louis for the men's Olympic trials on Thursday and Saturday, and the women's nationals, the P&G championships on Friday and Sunday, which serves as a qualifier for their Olympic trials next month in San Jose.

Nichols said the recovery from her knee injury probably will restrict her to two events here, the uneven parallel bars and the balance beam, adding she expected to be "100 percent for San Jose."

"I remember every injury she comes back from … she comes back stronger ever," said Simone Biles, the three-time national and three-time world all-around champion. "I'm like, 'How do you do it?' And she does it.

"I know it's weird to say, it was only her meniscus. For any athlete, it would be like, 'What are you,  crazy?' For a gymnast, that's OK. Only six weeks."

Leyva had to stop his training for a much shorter period of time, about a week and a half. But it allowed him only about two weeks of training before the men's nationals, the P&G Championships in Hartford, Conn.

At Hartford, Sam Mikulak of Newport Coast won his fourth national title, nicely positioning himself for a second Olympic berth. The U.S. men finished fifth in London in 2012.

"Honestly, this is the strongest that we've ever been, in my opinion," Mikulak said. "There's so much potential. Gymnastics has just escalated so much through the years. Most of us are between the ages of 21 and 25 — except for Brooksie [29-year-old Chris Brooks]. He's going to get mad at me for saying that.

"We're ready for it. We didn't have the success we wanted in 2012. But we want to be more successful this time around."

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To that end, the men's trials are being held a bit earlier. The men said there wasn't enough time between the trials four years ago and the Olympics.

"I want it [the decision-making] to be hard on us," said Kevin Mazeika, the men's national team coordinator. "We have seven of the eight athletes returning from London. … It's a very deep pool of talent. The quality of depth is like we've never seen before. You go all the way down the list and there are athletes performing at very high levels. That bodes well for the USA men's team."

Twitter: @reallisa

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